Archive for the ‘Usage Peeves’ Category

Play It As It Lays

January 8, 2009

“Palestinians try to dig out the remains of a security force officer from Hamas as he lays in the rubble following an Israeli missile strike on a building in Gaza City.”

The Huffington Post muffed it in this Dec. 28 photo caption*: that dead security officer lies in the rubble (although we hope not still). But Joan Didion got it right in the title of her 1970 novel (which I’ve borrowed for this post). Read on…

Incredible Shrinking Verb Forms

December 20, 2008

A reminder of how far beyond the Zeitgeist I have grown: my ear remains offended by a movie title: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

“Honey, I Shrank the Kids” would sound right, as would “Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids.”  Maybe the second was what was meant, a careless elision eliminating the contraction of “have”.

The movie was made in 1987, and reincarnated as a TV program in 1997.  I’m still offended. I hear endless similar locutions: “He sung three new songs”; “I stunk”; even, once, “He’d swam with the sharks.”

All this with a group of irregular verbs whose past tense is—or used to be—formed by changing the vowel in the present tense—usually a short “i” as in “drink”—to an “a” (drank). To form the past participle the vowel changed again, to “u”, as in “drunk”. Used with “have” and “had”, the past participle forms the present perfect and pluperfect—“I’ve swum with the sharks, he’d swum with the sharks.” (“Swim, swam, swum”.)

According to Wikipedia, these verb forms go back a long way, and are actually fairly regular. They come to us directly from Old English—sturdy, one-syllable verbs that do yeoman service in daily use. No wonder that in linguistics they’re called “strong verbs”. Read on….

The Usage Curmudgeon – What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?

December 13, 2008

The usage-peeve pages in the top right-hand column are under a new name, “The Usage Curmudgeon” (formerly “Do Words Matter?”) These pages explore the ways in which, through usage, common words take on strange new contexts. Here’s the newest entry:

What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?

From an unlikely source comes another usage peeve: Christa Tippet, host of the NPR show “Speaking of Faith” (at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, the only talk radio available as I sort clothes for the laundry) mentioned, at the top of the hour, that the Dow Jones “experienced” a precipitous drop….This was the umpteenth time recently that I’d heard about a non-sentient entity “experiencing” something—e.g., my cable company was “experiencing” service disruptions, or Amtrak was “experiencing” delays.

Well, no. Actually, we’re the ones who experience these things. The Dow drops, and we experience dismay, fear, a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Cable service is disrupted, the train is delayed, and we experience frustration, or worse. Read on…

New Usage Peeve: Trans Fats (See The Usage Curmudgeon, Top Right-hand Column)

October 19, 2008

Everyone agrees trans fats are bad for you. They’ve been banned in New York City. But almost no one seems to understand what they are. Possibly as a result, mislabeling of foods is rampant. Check out Lets Hear It for Trans Fats (And What Are They, Anyway? in the right-hand column under “Pages”.

Usage Peeves

October 11, 2008

Do words matter? If you’re beyond the Zeitgeist, you probably think they do. It may even pain you to read and hear words inflated, deflated, distorted and twisted into their opposites by usage that reflects massive misunderstanding, if not downright incomprehension. In the right-hand column, under Pages and “The Usage Curmudgeon,” you’ll find some of my pet peeves about the ways in which perfectly good words and phrases are undone by usage. (You’ll also find expanded definitions of Zeitgeist under “More on Zeitgeist.”)